I have been hearing a lot of leadership say they want to change things. They say we need to change in order to survive, to compete, to grow. But if you listen carefully you will notice they do not say specifically “what” they want to change, or “how” they want to change. They do not acknowledge the price they are willing to pay in order to make the changes they recommend. And they do not want to make the risk associated with the changes they say we all need to make. It is almost as if they believe that they can say it and everyone, everywhere will simply say “Yes” and willingly, even enthusiastically make the changes they in their great wisdom have suggested. They seem to deny that there is any cost involved. They seem to fail to realize why people resist change. Or perhaps they never learned the maxim I have had to live with throughout my professional career. It was taught to me in graduate school and continues to be (perhaps eternally) true: “Those most invested in the way things are, are least inclined to embrace or accept change.”
It is foolish to think that people will change their hearts, minds, expectations, or desires simply because someone said so. It is ridiculous to believe that change will come without cost. And it is ludicrous to think that everyone will accept that “their way” may not be the best or most effective way, especially if at one time previously “their way” was the most effective. After all, it still works for them.
The truth is that in business, institutions, social services, and even at home things do need to change and they need to change regularly, even frequently. Many times we do not notice or resist the changes since we are the ones making them as we go along. It does not bother us too much because many of the changes are not massive, life-changing, pattern altering, mind-changing events. When babies leave the breast or bottle, they learn to eat. Pre-school leads to kindergarten which in turn leads to elementary, and middle, high school etc. Each step difficult, each requiring adjustment and growth, adaptation and work in assimilating the change. And most of us like to make things better if and when we can. But at some point in our self-directing adult lives we become comfortable with ourselves, our patterns and practices. And subtle influences change our focus and priorities. We cease to desire to become and we focus our attention on our comfort. Familiarity becomes more important than purpose. Control becomes more important than product. Self-significance becomes more important than group or common good. That is when we slide into sloth and irrelevance, ineffectiveness and eventual eradication.
Finally it is not really the “stuff” (the activities, procedures, forms, or products) changing that bothers most folks. (Who uses 8-track tapes anymore? Who does not own if not use to its fullest capacity a cell phone?) No, what matters to us in changing times and circumstances, in making changes to the way we do things is our sense of ability and our feeling of place in those changes. We do not want to change if it means we no longer have worth, or if the things we value lose their meaning. So perhaps what we need to change first, is the well being and “place” for each person in the organization. Perhaps we need to establish “community” well being as well as personal wellbeing so that one benefits the other and together both can change and grow. Maybe if I feel that I am not forgotten or de-valued, if I feel that my needs are not being discarded in favor of the needs of someone else, and if I can increase my concern for other’s wellbeing as well as my own, and trust the mutuality of concern, well maybe then I won’t have to fear change and may even support and participate in it for the good of all.
In the final analysis it will not be the “party” calling for change that will make things better. What will save our institutions, our communities and our world will be caring for one another and together working toward the common goals. Changes are just steps in that process and most would be happy to take a step rather than wallow in misery. We just need to see what specific step to take and have a reasonable idea of what the effect of that step will be.
What do you think?